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New York Times Public Editor Gets it Wrong

Margaret Sullivan, the New York Times’ public editor, has been great since taking on the role, but when she attacked Nate Silver, she was wrong. Silver, the author of the political blog FiveThirtyEight, has become a target for Republicans lately because his prediction model has President Barack Obama easily beating Mitt Romney next Tuesday.

Joe Scarborough recently called Silver and his work out, and so Silver asked Scarboroguh to bet on the election results. “If you think it’s a toss-up, let’s bet,” tweeted Silver, to Scarborough. “If Obama wins, you donate $1,000 to the American Red Cross. If Romney wins, I do. Deal?”

Sullivan caught wind of the bet and called out Silver:

Whatever the motivation behind it, the wager offer is a bad idea – giving ammunition to the critics who want to paint Mr. Silver as a partisan who is trying to sway the outcome. It’s also inappropriate for a Times journalist, which is how Mr. Silver is seen by the public even though he’s not a regular staff member.

Sullivan is not only wrong, she sounds out of touch. No one with any reasonable amount of intelligence would think that Silver — who has built his entire career on predicting elections — would alter the data to lean one way or another. Silver is also not making a partisan bet, he is betting on himself, his prediction model and his reputation.

Sullivan went on to claim that “When he came to work at The Times, Mr. Silver gained a lot more visibility and the credibility associated with a prominent institution.” Wrong again. Silver’s work was more than solid before coming to the Times, which is why the paper now carries his blog.

This is Sullivan’s first big misstep, and even Times staffers are letting her know. Hugo Lindgren, editor of the Times Magazine, tweeted, “Nate Silver aka @fivethirtyeight is a credit to the New York Times. Period.”

Here’s hoping that “period” ends Sullivan’s absurd attack.

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